A Set of Lines review

The writer Rebecca Gransden posted an incisive review of A Set of Lines on Goodreads. Excerpt below:

There is a shorthand inherent in tackling dystopian themes, and Stewart moulds a knowing backdrop, using that shorthand to create a scaffolding which amplifies the atmosphere of benumbed melancholy. Throughout, there is an overwhelming sense of longing underneath the surface, a longing obfuscated and perhaps suppressed for so long, that its very function is being forgotten. The unconscious mind and its rebellion against passivity in the face of the denial of human wants and dignities is very present in this novel.

2020 in books and music

The less said about this year the better (at the moment and in this space, at least).

My current total of books read for the year stands at 136 and I’m sure I’ll finish a few more before year’s end, though they probably won’t make this list, so I’m posting it earlier than usual. I will update later if this changes. As it turns out I read more books last year, but I suspect I spent more actual hours reading this year due to the circumstances. I think I read more longer books this year, which probably accounts for the difference. Once Goodreads provides my year-end stats I can compare number of pages read and see if this is the case (Update: turns out my suspicions were off the markso far I’ve read about 10,000 less pages this year than my total for last year. Definitely not going to make up that difference in the next couple of weeks).

Concentration was definitely a problem this year. As a result I found myself switching between books, starting and stopping books, and completely abandoning books more than usual. But reading remained my top leisure activity and provided a safe refuge from the chaos and negative energy in the world.

If you’re a Goodreads user you can view my entire list of books read here.

Top reads (in order within each genre by date read):

Note: in most cases links are to my Goodreads reviews, not all of which are actual reviews)

Novels/Novellas:

The Box Man / Kōbō Abe (review)
Wide Sargasso Sea / Jean Rhys (review)
The Atrocity Exhibition / J. G. Ballard (review)
The Doll / Lukas Tomin (review)
Dézafi / Frankétienne (review)
The Golden Cut / Merl Fluin (review)
The Diary of Mr. Pinke / Ewald Murrer (review)
Mount Analogue / René Daumal (review)
Rogomelec / Leonor Fini (review)
Mangled Hands / Johnny Stanton (review)
The Model / Robert Aickman (review)
The Narrator / Michael Cisco (review)
The Undying Present / Syd Staiti (review)
The Warren / Brian Evenson (review)
Yesterday / Ágota Kristóf (review)
Such Small Hands / Andrés Barba (review)
The Bridges / Tarjei Vesaas (review)
Malicroix / Henri Bosco (review)
The Left Hand of Darkness / Ursula K. Le Guin

Short Stories:

All of Your Most Private Places / Meghan Lamb (review)
Secret Hours / Michael Cisco (review)
The Sleep of the Righteous / Wolfgang Hilbig (review)
Waystations of the Deep Night / Marcel Brion (review)
Unreasonable Hours / Julio Cortázar (review)
The Delicate Prey and Other Stories / Paul Bowles (review)
Morbid Tales / Quentin S. Crisp (review)
The Doll Maker and Other Tales of the Uncanny / Sarban (review)
The Sea-Rabbit; Or, the Artist of Life / Wendy Walker (review)
The Unsettled Dust / Robert Aickman (review)
The Earth Wire / Joel Lane (review)

Poetry:

Autumn Sonata: Selected Poems / Georg Trakl (review)
A Certain Plume / Henri Michaux (review)
Coma Crossing: Collected Poems / Roger Gilbert-Lecomte (review)
The Last Gold of Expired Stars: Complete Poems 1908–1914 / Georg Trakl (review)

Drama:

Complete Plays / Sarah Kane (review)

Cross-Genre:

The House of Illnesses / Unica Zürn (review)
Nights as Day, Days as Night / Michel Leiris (review)
The Star Opens Slowly / Casi Cline (review)
Desire for a Beginning Dread of One Single End / Edmond Jabès (review)
Wasteland / New Juche (review)

Literary Anthologies:

Man in the Black Coat: Russia’s Literature of the Absurd / Oberiuty (review)

Nonfiction:

The Trouble With Being Born / E. M. Cioran (review)
Mutations: The Many Strange Faces of Hardcore Punk / Sam McPheeters (review)

Comix:

The Portable Frank / Jim Woodring (review)
Nijigahara Holograph / Inio Asano
Gast / Carol Swain (review)
My Favorite Thing Is Monsters: Vol. 1 / Emil Ferris (review)

________________________________________________________________

MUSIC

I listened to a lot of mixes this year, as opposed to full albums, so I’m keeping the list short, tailored mostly to bands whose songs I keep replaying. I will note that not much has changed with my favorites over the past few years. Occasionally a new band gets added to the heavy rotation roster, but it’s often within an existing favored genre. Nearly everything Justin Broadrick touches continues to floor me. The drone doom and wider post-metal genres in general are popular zones, supplemented with frequent forays into ambient, post-punk, industrial, and retro trips to hardcore, punk, and 80s alternative rock. Much like with my reading tastes, a solidification seems to have occurred. I blame middle age.

The (very) abridged list of what got me through 2020, in no particular order (links in most cases direct to artist Bandcamp pages):

True Widow
Emma Ruth Rundle
Helms Alee
Thou
Jesu
Final
Transitional
Scorn
Nadja
Pelican
Seefeel
Dead Can Dance

A Set of Lines review

A Set of Lines has received its first review outside of Goodreads. This perceptive review comes by way of long-time comrade-in-letters and master lipogramist Daniel Williams, aka awildslimalien.

ahoy chicagoans

To those readers living in the Chicago area: if you’ve reached the point where you feel you can leave your quarantine unit without enduring heart palpitations in order to do some socially distant browsing at one of your local bookshops, my novel A Set of Lines is now available at that fine Chicago institution known as Quimby’s. New stock of Bunker Diaries and Inner Harbor Field Reports has also arrived at the store. Just a heads up that the supply of these two publications is dwindling, and there are no plans for a second printing. As always, thanks for reading and be well.

the return of gil orlovitz

Rick Schober at Tough Poets Press continues his admirable efforts to introduce the work of Gil Orlovitz to a new contemporary audience. He previously raised funds via Kickstarter to publish a collection of Orlovitz’s stories, poems, and essays. With this latest campaign, he hopes to raise enough capital to reprint Orlovitz’s long out-of-print novel Ice Never F. As of this writing the project is over a third of the way funded, but it still needs support. [Update: Now fully backed and then some!] This book is virtually impossible to find on the used market, so Tough Poets Press is doing a valuable service to the many readers who in recent years have become interested in Orlovitz’s contributions to avant-garde writing in the 1960s. Now is your chance to be part of experimental literary history! Help fund the book’s publication and your name will appear in the Acknowledgments. More important than that, though, you will be assisting in the resurrection of a true American original writer.

the excavation of gil orlovitz

Recently I received the good news that a new volume of buried writer Gil Orlovitz’s poetry and prose is soon to be published. I’ve previously bemoaned Orlovitz’s fate on this site, as well as posting, at the time, the only known review of his experimental novel Ice Never F to be found on the internet. Now, champion of forgotten poets Rick Schober will be publishing a collection of Orlovitz’s early stories, poems, and essays through his one-man operation, Tough Poets Press. Rick needs our help, though! He’s started a Kickstarter campaign to cover the initial costs associated with getting this important anthology out into the world. Rick has done these campaigns before and he knows what he’s doing. All donations go straight into production. Take a look, read Rick’s biography of Orlovitz, and if you feel so inclined please give what you can! The book will be published June 7, 2018, the 100th anniversary of Orlovitz’s birth.

2017 in books and music

Snow Bunting at North Point State Park, Maryland, USA. © 2016 S. D. Stewart

Snow Bunting at North Point State Park, Maryland, USA. © 2016 S. D. Stewart

Following surgery to repair a pelvic fracture in January I was unable to put weight on my left leg for three months. One might think this would have resulted in a higher read count than usual for the year, but in fact my total fell short of my average over the past few years. Part of this was actually due to a concerted effort to slow down and read more leisurely. However, another reason was that once I was fully mobile I simply did not want to sit around reading, so I ended up reading much less in the second half of the year, though toward the end as bird migration tapered off and the weather grew colder my pace did pick up again.

Below is the list of books I assigned 5-star ratings on Goodreads in 2017. A number of books I rated 4 stars probably deserve a place here, too, but I had to draw the line somewhere. In the 4-star category I will mention the two Julien Gracq novels I read as being particularly noteworthy (The Castle of Argol and The Opposing Shore). Regrettably I believe both of these are out of print in English translation. However, I’m happy to report that NYRB has just reissued Gracq’s moodily atmospheric novel A Balcony in the Forest, so there’s hope now for future republication of his singular work in English.

In general this year was a good one for reissues of some of my favorite buried writers. Mid-20th century British avant-garde women writers fared especially well in 2017. Much of Leonora Carrington’s writing finally came back into print as part of the centennial celebration of her birth year, including short fiction collections in both U.S. and British editions, as well as her harrowing memoir Down Below and her children’s book The Milk of Dreams. A biography by Joanna Moorhead also appeared in the spring.

A 50th anniversary edition of Anna Kavan’s novel Ice came out from Penguin in the U.S. this fall. As the 50th anniverary of Kavan’s death approaches there has been a small surge of interest around her work. For example, the journal Women: A Cultural Review devotes its entire current issue to exploring various themes in Kavan’s work. Hopefully this new scholarship will help prompt Peter Owen to finally reprint Kavan’s mysterious novel Eagles’ Nest and the kaleidoscopic short fiction collection  A Bright Green Field, both of which have inexplicably been languishing out of print for years. (For more on Anna Kavan visit the House of Sleep).

Finally, the brief but bright shooting star of Ann Quin’s literary career received a much-deserved coda when the subscription-based UK publisher And Other Stories released a collection of her unpublished stories and fragments, which includes the powerful (though incomplete) manuscript The Unmapped Country. This fragment had previously appeared in shorter form in the long out-of-print Beyond the Words anthology. (Note that non-subscribers will need to wait until mid-January 2018 for the official publication of this volume). While the publication of this book is a boon for Quin fans, it’s probably not the best place to start with her writing. In fact, her four published novels are all quite different, so it’s tough to suggest a starting point with Quin. On an initial recommendation, I began with Tripticks and actually did not care for it but still sensed there was something drawing me to Quin. I found that in Passages, which I consider to be her masterwork. Three comes in second place, followed by her debut, Berg. Thankfully, all of Quin’s novels remain in print courtesy of Dalkey Archive Press, bless their dedicated hearts.

I will just mention one other reissue of note, tangential to Ann Quin. In April, the micro press Verbivoracious Press (VP)* published the first volume of an omnibus edition of Alan Burns’ novels. Burns was part of a loosely connected band of British avant-garde writers in the 1960s that included Ann Quin, as well as B.S. Johnson, Eva Figes, Rayner Heppenstall, and others. His novel Europe After the Rain draws interesting parallels to Kavan’s Ice and the relationship between the two novels is investigated in an article by Leigh Wilson in the previously mentioned issue of Women: A Cultural Review. In the past, VP, which specializes in reprinting ‘exploratory literature from Europe and beyond,’ also reissued a volume collecting two of Heppenstall’s novels (review), and many other experimental gems, including much of Christine Brooke-Rose‘s output.

*Unfortunately VP has closed its doors since this post appeared, so I have removed any relevant links.
This novel was reprinted in 2019 by Calder.

2017 5-star books (in order read):

Being Upright: Zen Meditation and the Bodhisattva Precepts / Reb Anderson
The Passion of New Eve / Angela Carter (Review)
The Poor Mouth / Flann O’Brien (Review)
The Plains / Gerald Murnane (Review)
The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington (Review)
When the Time Comes / Maurice Blanchot (Review)
Snow Part / Paul Celan (Review)
S.S. Proleterka / Fleur Jaeggy (Review)
The Way of Chuang Tzu / Thomas Merton (Review)
The Rings of Saturn / W. G. Sebald (Review)
Alejandra Pizarnik: A Profile / Alejandra Pizarnik (Review)
Old Rendering Plant / Wolfgang Hilbig (Review)

If you’re a Goodreads user, my full list of books read in 2017 can be found here.

2017 soundtrack:

Barn Owl (and solo work by Jon Porras and Evan Caminiti)
Belgrado
Drab Majesty
Emma Ruth Rundle
Gate
Goat
Grails
Grouper
ISIS
Keluar
Kodiak
Marriages
Nadja
Neurosis
Portion Control
Scorn
Tim Hecker
Yellow Swans
…and too much post-punk to list (mostly by way of this finding aid)

old rendering plant by wolfgang hilbig

New review of this brilliant, tangled web of words posted on the Book Reviews tab. For more information on the book, visit Two Lines Press.

luxuriant leprosy of the vegetable kingdom

Soon began the glorious days of autumn particularly unmistakable in the melancholy curve that the sun, already noticeable lower over the horizon, drew across the sky in whose calm expanses, as though constantly swept by a wonderfully pure wind, its golden trace seemed to linger like a magnificent ship’s wake, and hardly had it turned its course toward the horizon than the moon, as though suspended to the beam of a celestial balance, appeared against the blue light of day with the ghostly glow of an unexpected star, whose malignant influence would now, of itself alone, explain the sudden, strange, and half-metallic alterations of the leaves of the forest whose surprising red and yellow brilliance burst out everywhere with the irrepressible vigour, the fulminating contagion of a luxuriant leprosy of the vegetable kingdom.

Julien Gracq, The Castle of Argol (a most curious book, and one filled with what would become Gracq’s signature lush descriptions of Nature as a possibly supernatural force. In particular he seems to have a thing for forests…reading his forested prose turns hypnotic after a time. See also: A Balcony in the Forest.)

[Review here.]

virginia woolf’s summer madness

The only thing in this world is music–music and books and one or two pictures. I am going to found a colony where there shall be no marrying–unless you happen to fall in love with a symphony of Beethoven–no human element at all, except what comes through Art–nothing but ideal peace and endless meditation. The whole of human beings grows too complicated, my only wonder is that we don’t fill more madhouses: the insane view of life has much to be said for it–perhaps its the sane one after all: and we, the sad sober respectable citizens really rave every moment of our lives and deserve to be shut up perpetually. My spring melancholy is developing these hot days into summer madness.

Source: The Letters of Virginia Woolf Volume 1: 1888-1912 (from a letter dated April 23, 1901 to Emma Vaughan)

(thanks: lost fun zone)

  • Recent Posts

  • Navigation Station

    The links along the top of the page are rudimentary attempts at trail markers. Otherwise, see below for more search and browse options.

  • In Search of Lost Time

  • Personal Taxonomy

  • Common Ground

  • Resources

  • BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS